Japanese manufacturers are making a comeback

JDM. This contraction (meaning Japanese Domestic Market) brings to mind some of the best affordable performance cars ever made. The 70s, 80s and 90s saw brilliant affordable performance cars from Japanese manufacturers; beginning with cars like the Nissan Skyline, Toyota AE 86, Datsun 510 and Fairlady, going on to the R32 Nissan GT-R, and the first generation Toyota Supra, and ending the golden era of JDM with beauties like the Honda NSX and S2000, Mazda’s RX-7 and MX-5, the Subaru Impreza WRX, and Toyota’s MR2.

Honda S2000, Mazda RX-7, R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R, Toyota AE86 Trueno
Offering brilliant performance coupled with reliability and affordability, this it what JDM meant to most petrolheads. (Image source: Wikipedia Commons)

What made these sports cars even more memorable was that, unlike the others of their time, JDM sports cars were reliable and highly tunable. Modders still bang on about Toyota’s infamous 2JZ motor, Honda’s revolutionary B series engines, Nissan’s hardy RB26DETT mill, and Mazda’s insane 13B rotary engine.

There was a definite lull in the late 2000s and early 2010s as the world economy started to slow down and Japanese manufacturers were forced to hedge their bets on efficient and rather uninspiring cars. These cars focused on fuel-efficiency and ride-comfort making them just point-to-point transportation. No thrills and no frills, just efficiency and, well, boredom.

Honda's S500, S600, S660, and S800
Clockwise from the top: Honda’s S500, S600, the modern S660, and the S800. (Image source: Wikipedia Commons)

With global economy picking up again and calls from enthusiasts to build more sporty cars, manufacturers have started releasing models that are actually fun-to-drive. Sure Mazda has retained the sporty yet affordable image with the evergreen MX-5, most car makers from the far east are only now getting back into this business. While cars like Honda’s S660 were primarily for the Japanese market, the newer cars are going to be rolled out globally. This could be the beginning of a new era of affordable performance models from Japanese manufacturers.

Honda

Since they came out with the new NSX, Honda has been on a roll to bring back its performance division, the famous Type R. While there were Type Rs in the previous two generations of the Civic, they didn’t live up to the hype nor did they offer the same excitement. The 2015 Civic Type R changed all that and brought back a glimpse of Honda’s hey-day. The next Civic Type R that was recently showcased at the 2016 Paris Motor Show promises to up the ante and reclaim its lost Nurburgring record for the fastest front-wheel drive car. It will also sport an engine that will be more powerful than the current 306bhp one.

2017 Honda Civic Type R
The 2017 Honda Civic Type R debuted at the 2016 Paris Motor Show. (Image source: Honda press site)

There have been rumours about a new S2000 since 2015. Honda is loath to reveal details but a launch in 2019 for this new roadster seems likely so as to coincide with Honda’s 70th anniversary. The original S2000 was launched in 1999 to celebrate the manufacturer’s 50th anniversary. A de-tuned version of the Civic Type R’s engine will probably be used to power the front-engine, rear-wheel drive two-seater rag-top giving it a significant edge over the Mazda MX-5 and Fiat’s 124 Spider.

Honda S2000 rendering
This rendering of a new S2000 is based on the design of the NSX. (Image source: Autocar)

Toyota

Toyota’s joint development with BMW to develop a BMW Z4 replacement and a new Toyota Supra is not recent news. What has been making headlines recently is that the Japanese car maker is that the Gazzo performance arm of Toyota has prepped a 375bhp World Rally Championship entrant in the Yaris hatchback. Further, a road-going version with over 210bhp from the 1.6-litre turbocharged engine will be available later this year.

Toyota Yaris WRC
The Toyota Yaris WRC scheduled to participate in the 2017 World Rally Championship. (Image source: Toyota press site)

This three-door Gazoo-badged hot hatch will officially be unveiled in March at the Geneva Motor Show. There aren’t any other details regarding this Fiesta ST rival but more will be revealed at the unveiling in March.

2017 Toyota GT86
Affordable performance in the form of the GT86 has been one of Toyota’s recent success stories, not in temrs of sales but for petrolheads. (Image source: Toyota press site)

There’s also the 2017 GT86/BRZ that came out late last year. Displayed at the 2016 Goodwood Festival of Speed, the new GT86 didn’t get a power boost, but did offer a stiffer chassis, tweaked suspensions, better interiors and better equipment.

Nissan

2017 Nissan Micra
The recently revealed 2017 Nissan Micra could have the 200bhp 1.6-litre engine from the Clio RS. (Image source: Nissan press site)

There have been some whispers about a NISMO-badged Nissan Micra though nothing has been confirmed. While the previous Micra did have an exclusively Japanese NISMO version, it was just a body kit with some decals. However, it isn’t inconceivable that Nissan could borrow the Renault Clio’s 1.6-litre motor for the Micra. After all, that engine was originally taken from the Nissan Juke.

While it is premature to think the golden age of JDM has returned, the outlook is definitely positive. Subaru has kept the legacy of its Impreza intact while Mazda has also promised more sports cars albeit without the iconic rotary engines. There’s plenty to look forward to from manufacturers from the far east.

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